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Interviews

T.S. Monk Speaks Out

By Published: November 6, 2003
TM: Absolutely, absolutely. All this stuff, this is what T.S. Monk is about. And I'm going to be that. I'm going to sell me for what I am. Blue Note wanted me to be super straight ahead. If I'd have just wanted to make super-duper straight ahead records on Blue Note I'd still be over there making records. They loved me up there, but they knew my head was going somewhere else. They could hear the sound of the band was moving somewhere else. You know, going back to what I said earlier. When Art died'I was very close to him. He gave me my first drum set'when he died, I thought, there's a vacuum there. And there's nobody jumping on it because they didn't realize that that compact, super swinging, super dense, dynamite straight ahead sound, people loved that sound. I never want to an Art Blakey gig where the room wasn't standing room only. And it was always because the band was a bitch. Right up to the end. You didn't know who this week's Messengers was, but you knew that the style of the Jazz Messengers said that its gonna sound like x, minimum. So what I've tried to do over the past ten years with the T.S. Monk Band is to create a profile so that if you've heard the T.S. Monk Band you know that T.S. Monk's Band can be as tight, swinging, and explosive'it won't better if you catch them in a telephone booth or Yankee Stadium, that's the way it always is, so I know if I go to hear the T.S. Monk Band my foot will be tapping and I'll probably be laughing and smiling, too. That's show business and that's what I'm about. And that's what my records are all about. There's no apparatus in the industry right now to actually sell that kind of record so I have to create the apparatus. You know what? They're sleeping. See that's why I'm a cross talker. The fusion thing has had such a struggle because it alienated the jazz community in the early stages because they pulled out a lot of jazz, and injected a lot of rock. Originally it was jazz-rock than jazz funk, funk-jazz rock-funk, finally they came up with fusion.

Ultimately, it became smooth jazz. That works for everyone What happened in the beginning was that you had this rock wave so what we're gonna have to do is we're gonna have to switch the beat under the music and maybe that'll fool everyone into thinking it's rock and we'll make some money. Well, it didn't work. What it did do was alienated the hell out of the jazz community and but not for Miles[Davis] shownin' everybody that it actually works, there wouldn't even be any smooth jazz.

But I've always said that, why alienate everybody. What makes it magical for me as a drummer is I can play for you Max Roach, and then stop, one, two, three, four, lay down some James Brown funk like the cats in the band, then stop, one, two, three, four, and lay down some other kind of stuff. That is interesting. Now that requires a little talent. One of the problems with a lot of jazz artists who tried to move to the fusion thing is people said they didn't sound for real. Well, he sounds like a jazz player. But there is a whole generation of musicians like myself that came up behind the Waynes and the Herbies that are true chameleons. Branford [Marsalsis] is one. Wynton is not.'Russell Malone is the ultimate chameleon on the guitar. Russell Malone will play you Mississippi gut bucket blues and you'd think he's missing an eye and got five teeth, right? Then, he'll turn around and play you some Jimi Hendrix where you'd swear Jimi is in the house; then turn around and break down some George Benson; and then give you some Grant Green, Django Reinhhardt and you'll say, 'Well, did he study with Django?' There's a whole bunch of us out here that for the most part are lost. I say there's a market for us and I'm going to get it rolling. That's what Crosstalk was about, that's what Higher Ground is all about. That's what T.S. Monk is all about. Jazz is a vast tent. Fuck the jazz police. I grew up with Art Blakey in the house.

No bullshit. Max Roach'in the house. And neither of those guys ever, ever said to me, 'Thelonious if you don't play ding-ding-da-ding for the rest of your life, you won't be a jazz musician' Only the jazz police say that kind of BS and I'm not having it because the public is confused. If you like ZZ Top, I like Mick Jagger, your girlfriend likes Paul McCartney, and her brother likes Sid Vicious, we're all rockers. No doubt about it. Only when you get to jazz all of a sudden you've got the smooth jazz people pointing at the traditionalist cats 'cause they're too old. You've got the traditionalists pointing at the smooth jazz because they can't play, and both of them pointing at the Outcats because it's too far out, and them pointing at the other guys saying they're slaves to the papers. And what that does to the audience is it confuses the shit out of them when we told our audience that jazz is the most inclusive, that jazz is the most comprehensive, jazz is all over the world, jazz is universal, and then we don't act out any of those things anymore. But the masters did.

Which is why when you listen to a body of work like Duke Ellington's he explored everything from Byzantine chants to the great European classics, to primal shit coming out of the jungles of South America. When you listen to the expansive work of Miles you see why Miles had to tell the jazz police, 'Get the fuck out of my face, I ain't got to wear a certain kind of suit and play certain kinds of rhythms to be a jazz musician. We are jazz and will tell you what jazz is.' That's what we have to do. That's what I'm engaged in. Personally, for me, I hope it works. But if it doesn't, you know what the bottom line is'and this goes all the way back to my dad and who I am'the bottom line, man, is you gotta be who you are. Maybe the people won't dig you. You see, I watched my father live with that, and he said, 'But this is who I am'. So I have to do this. So this still has a lot to do with my dad, who I am, and how I have to conduct myself. I can't be the keeper of the straight ahead thing for all the people who love that. I can't be my daddy's keeper twenty-four seven for all the people who want that, and I can't play funk all day and night because I don't want to. I'm all of these things. I like to sing a song. I like to tell a joke and I like to talk a lot. And I like to be a chairman, and I like jazz education. I'm all these things and my father told me, he looked at me and said, 'Now you know you can't just be a drummer.' You dig? So I'm right on course as far as I'm concerned, and if the world digs me, they dig me. If they don't, I can put my head down at night and say, 'I know who T.S. Monk is and this is who he is.' For the most part, the jazz community has been very, very friendly to me, to everything I've done. I can't believe I've been on the cover of Down Beat twice. My father wasn't even once in his lifetime. All these beautiful things, hanging out with presidents, all these things that have happened to me since I came back to jazz, all says, 'you better be what you are. Don't you dare put a false impression out there after all your dad did to clear the decks so you can be who you are. So go on and be who you are'. Let the chips fall where they may.

Visit TS Monk on the web at www.monkzone.com . Visit the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at www.theloniusmonk.com .



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